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Meeting participants do not argue about verbs and nouns because they focus on modifiers. Modifiers include adjectives, adverbs and sometimes phrases that describe verbs and nouns. For example, participants won’t argue that “the job needs to be done”.  Rather, they will argue that the job needs to be done well and done quickly.  What qualifies as well and quickly becomes the focus of their argument. To diffuse arguments, you can use a simple and powerful question to create SMART objectives.

“What is the unit of measurement for (insert modifier)?”

SMART ObjectivesWith the same question you suddenly build consensus around SMART objectives rather than fuzzy goals (subjective). Deming provided the original acronym and definition of SMART as specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-based.  At MG RUSH we frequently change the “A” to adjustable as explained later.  Finding the specific and measurable represents the most common challenge to create SMART objectives or measurements. Finding the unit of measurement, quickly shifts the argument from the subjective to the objective.

The facilitator must challenge participants to make their thinking visible.

Again, when someone uses a modifier, take over the conversation, isolate the modifier, and challenge it with the same question:

“What is the unit of measurement for (insert modifier)?”

What unit or units of measurement do we typically use to agree that the job qualifies as well done? For example, if the job is to create a Facebook advertisement that will run for five days, the unit of measurement that defines well might be the number of clicks the advertisement receives in that five-day period. One hundred or more clicks equals well done, while less than that, not so well done. For measuring how quickly a job is performed, we might turn to a calendar and agree on a completion date(s). (You can add your own degrees of quickness.)

Convert Vague Indicators into SMART Objectives

Gauges, potentiometers, and dials help us zero on specific and measurable aspects. The gas gauge will indicate gallons (or liters).  Much like pressure gauges rely on Psi or kPa and temperature gauges on Fahrenheit or Celsius. The unit of measurement provides an objective reference point on which everyone can agree.  We have found that once people can envision a gauge, you make it easier for them to isolate a potentially SMART objective.  One thing for certain, if they are unable to dial-up or dial-down a specific unit, they do not have SMART objectives or criteria. They have become stuck with something fuzzy and subjective.

We may still argue whether we have ‘enough’ gas to reach our destination, but few can now argue that we have approximately X.x gallons remaining because gauges provide real-time feedback. The refined argument can now focus on other factors that contribute to fuel consumption such as weight, headwind, etc. One at a time you can them lead them to meaningful actions everyone can own (eg, roll up the windows, turn off the air-conditioning, etc.).

Be a stickler for specificity. Once we’ve agreed on the unit of measurement, get their agreement on where the data is found or created. You do not want people arguing in future meetings about different numbers coming from different reports.

For example, if we are partially measuring productivity by millions of barrels of oil, then isolate the Report Name/ Number and probably the row and perhaps the column as well. You want to make it easy for your grandmother to complete the calculation (given the right information) and derive the same answer. If so, you probably have determined a truly objective standard that everyone can support.

Smart Objectives

Modifiers Are Vague Indicators of SMART Objectives or Criteria

Discover the Conditions that Fail to Yield SMART Objectives

Once participants reach agreement about the unit of measurement and source of their data, you can lead a richer discussion about thresholds. For example, how much ‘stuff’ puts us in the Green Zone? When do we enter the Yellow zone? What characteristics toggle us into the Red Zone? Further refine your Objectives with a sense of timing such as duration or frequency. And be prepared to record the conditions, because there is usually more than one right answer. Your questions should avoid being close-ended.  Rather, be prepared to ask . . .

“Under what conditions (insert zones or values)?” or

“(insert zones or values) conditions occur BECAUSE . . .”

. . . so that differing viewpoints may co-exist. We have found that combining crisp methodology with facilitators that connect the dots contextually pre-empts discussion about factors that are NOT relevant. Further refinement focuses on precise levels of achievement within certain points in time. Strive to build ranges rather than to target a single values. No one can predict future factors with certainty. However, explaining WHY behind the best case, worse case, most likely case will make it much easier to build consensus.


Don’t ruin your career or reputation with bad meetings. Register for a class or forward this to someone who should. Taught by world-class instructors, MG RUSH  professional facilitation curriculum focuses on practice. Each student thoroughly practices and rehearses tools, methods, and approaches throughout the week. While some call this immersion, we call it the road to building impactful facilitation skills.

Our courses also provide an excellent way to earn up to 40 SEUs from the Scrum Alliance, 40 PDUs from PMI, and 40 CDUs from IIBA, as well as 3.2 CEUs for other professions. (See individual class descriptions for details.)

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Facilitation Expert

Terrence Metz, CSM, PSPO, CSPF, is the Managing Director of MG RUSH Facilitation Training and Coaching, the acknowledged leader in structured facilitation training. His FAST Facilitation Best Practices blog features over 300 articles on facilitation skills and tools aimed at helping others lead faster, more productive meetings and workshops that yield higher quality decisions. His clients include Agilists, Scrum teams, program and project managers, senior officers, and the business analyst community among numerous private and public companies and global corporations. As an undergraduate of Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) and MBA graduate from NWU’s Kellogg School of Management, his professional experience has focused on process improvement and product development. He continually aspires to make it easier for others to succeed.

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  1. I had to laugh when you mentioned that the calculation should be something your grandmother should be able to complete. When coaching teams on benefits metrics, I would ask for a relative’s name (someone not in the business) and suggest they consider whether that person can understand the instructions for where to get the information and how to calculate it; even suggesting they try it out on them!

    I will add one other thing about metrics that is important and that’s ownership. Each and every metric needs a name assigned as someone accountable for insuring the measure is appropriately managed (collected, analyzed, and reported). Too often I saw metrics defined to get through a project phase gate and totally ignored until it was time to get ready for the next phase. Of course sometimes a metric can’t be known until late in a project (often the case with benefits metrics), but a team can take time to consider leading indicator metrics that help determine whether they are on the right path towards desired benefits; and manage those metrics just as effectively.

    • Thanks Paula, You’re so smart, experienced, and effective that you could easily teach this material. Participant ownership comment is CRITICAL. At the end of it all, one and only person should be responsible for building the final algorithm and ensuring that data is captured for trending. For some of you, here is where Six Sigma can apply–to find the leading indicators that cause your metric to move (up or down). For example, monitoring the amount or value of sales proposals might be a leading indicator of sales that period. (And perhaps the quantity of calls made is a leading indicator of the quantity of proposals, etc.) By the way Paula, do you know how hard it is to spell ‘algorithm’?

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